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June 2008, vol 4 no 2

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Georges Friedenkraft

 

On Taiwan as the departure lounge for paradise

For Yu Hsi and Maurus Young

They appear from all sides, threading their way between the chinks of our dreams, slipping through the gaps opening up between light and shade, with the creamy hue enveloping in the evening mist the dense, massive tropical species - palm trees, bamboo plants, banana trees and tree ferns. They spring forth like geysers, shadowy shapes of pressurised stream.

They are like fresh-blown, fragrant flowers brought as offerings by pious worshippers to the temples of Zhu Shi or Lungshan, where the springs of spirituality find their source amongst the towering statues of divinities, the candelabras and sticks of incense, beneath the ceilings with their thousand and one intricate adornments. In the rythmic cadences of the prayers can be imagined their intent gaze, deep and grey like an ocean of anthracite. One of the cultural attractions of the capital, Taipei, is the Museum of the National Palace. Here, the visitor may relish the full sweep of five thousand years of history and be reminded that the Chinese played the leading role in the birth of civilisation. The foreign traveller lingers in fascination over poteries and seals. Here too, their myriad presence is to be felt and their sweet breath grows ever more perceptible, as though the soughing of the approaching night enfolds the byways of history in its satin veil.

The mighty torrent
Of the endless flow of time
In their knowing gaze

They are also to be found in the countless restaurants which have made Taipei such a gourmet paradise, with every kind of traditional Chinese cuisine, whether it be traditional Taiwanese fare or specialities from Shanghaï or Canton, mingling freely with more adventurous Japanese or even French offerings. Here their faces are wreathed in the seductive smiles of the waitresses bearing steamed dishes or new-wave tea-based specialities or else insisting, with their irresistible charm, on refilling your tea cup, even when you have no room for even one extra sip of a tea so strong that it will postpone for a while the moment when you will finally slip into peacful slumber. And as you sleep, you will recognise them as your imagination continues to dwell on their shapely forms.

I dream and I see
In the transparent green tea
Their lustful profiles

Occasionally, they will slip into the garments of the girls studying at the National University and stroll by your side along the banks of the lake with its placid waters, where squirrels appear in the leafy arbours, ducks sleep with their heads tucked under their wings and fish leap skywards, leaving behind them eddying families of concentric waves.

On the river bank
A small grey rat scampers past
Surprised as I am

I remember having distinctly recognised their presence in the music I was listening to. As I listened religiously to the notes being picked out by Chen Chang Jing on the ancient Chinese zither known as a "Qin", or Ye Wei Ren's bow caressing the "Erhu", the traditional violin with its glissando sound like the wind sighing in the foliage, I swear that they were there, clinging to the melodies and the chords.

Since they are also the daughters of the air, they haunt the flight of the butterflies and suffuse the singing of the birds. You may even sense their presence in the milky-pale mushrooms feeding voraciously on the trunk of dead wood. Man must live in harmony with nature. How can our technically-perverted philosophies have neglected this basic message of oriental wisdom, which is once more coming to the fore thanks to the meditations of Yu Hsi? As for them, the innocence of childhood also belongs to them, when little schoolgirls in uniform go walking round the lake.

On the humpback bridge
The entire primary school
Is taking snapshots

They attire the whole city in their long hair, turning the parks and gardens into havens of relaxation. "My garden smiles," Maurus Young once told me, but it was also because of their intervention. What would the smile of the world be without the swaying of their hips and their gently-swelling breasts? What would the smile in the gardens be without the scent of orange blossom which pervades each of their embraces, as though their saliva had become intimately mingled with the sap of the citrus fruits? Seized by a sudden erotic impulse, you reach out to them, but in vain. You are too clumsy or too old and they have already fled far away out of sight, lurking in the shade of the trees or in the mysterious shadow of the corollas of exotic flowers. As Tanizaki wrote, what makes the complexion of Asian women so sublime is the mysterious darkness it possesses. This mysterious quality is also shared by them, and they enfold themselves in this mystery as in a silken cape, with all its charm, modestys and graceful smoothness. They fascinate you even as they scoff at you.

These Asian faces
Their delectable high cheekbones
Sleek-smooth like a lake

Naturally, you will not see them if you remain cool-headed and in thrall to the real world as it appears before your eyes. In that case, all you will see are the three dimensions of space and time's eternal pendulum, armed like a machine gun. All you will hear are the seconds clicking past are you will not even dare to suspect that they may be there. Only with the heart can they truly be seen.

Who are they? The Angels, of course, but perhaps you had already guessed.


 

(1) This text was composed after a poets' meeting in Taipei, held at the invitation of the poet Yu Hsi in the company of the poet Maurus Young.
Adaptation from the original French into English by Brian Fergusson .

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